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The Tragedy of Remaining a Slave

Posted on November 30, 2016 in Uncategorized

“Education for colonial people must inevitably mean unrest and revolt; therefore, had to be limited and used to inculcate obedience and servility lest the whole system be overthrown.” – W. E. B. Du Bois

“It is the white man who creates the Negro. But it is the Negro who creates negritude.” – Frantz Fanon

“White is right
Yellow mellow
Black, get back!”

Langston Hughes

Diatribe it is not. Certainly not vitriolic. Anger at a sad situation? Maybe. Fury at our inability to be free? Perhaps. The whole thing was spurred by me seeing a security guard at a super market asking (once again) a black man to open his bag for inspection.

Africans who live in Paris know a particular African species, black of course, often bald and muscular, sometimes puffed up but still looking less menacing and more pathetic, dressed in a cheap standard issue black suit, sometimes wearing dark sunglasses, often found at the doors of super markets and department stores. Maybe the species exists elsewhere. This is no African to be categorized as a paperless migr, a street cleaner, a frightened unemployed soul, the majority, as it were, in the increasingly unwelcoming capital that Paris has become. This special species is the security guard, the keeper of His Masters gates, a trusted mastiff, underpaid but still proud–he has a job and he has his working papers in order. Two valuable things that thousands other Africans do not have at all. These guards and elderly white women share the same phobia –they fear the African. In the Metro or in the buses, if an African stands close to her, the elderly white woman will usually hold her purse tighter after casting a fearful glance towards him. The black, often African, security guard will also stare at the African entering the supermarket or the department store, follow him with his eyes and more often than not accost him as he leaves to ask him to open and show the contents of his bag just as (or while) the whites, some of whom may have indulged in shoplifting away from the prying eyes of the camera, calmly walk out. “Good day Bwana, Have a nice day Sir, Please open the bag!”– This last one addressed to the African, of course. At the airport, the black policeman or woman soften stop the black person and rarely dare to do the same with the white ones.

It is all connected to the colonization of the mind, an inculcated self hatred and inferiority complex. There is no denying that the slave trade and colonialism ruined Africa to no end and that the wounds open up even today to debilitate Africa’s search for development and overall progress. That said, it is equally true that all of Africa’s woes cannot be traced back to those two evils even though 50 years after the so called independence from colonialism, the enslaved African bourgeoisie owes its rottenness and lack of nationalism to the colonial (mis)– education and formation. Colonialism was wanton murder but it was really worse than that. True that Germans almost wiped out the Herero in Namibia, the French killed thousands over thousands in the Maghreb, the British committed heinous crimes in Kenya and in their colonies, the Belgians slaughtered 15 million Congolese, Mussolini killed at least one million Ethiopians as he attempted to colonize Ethiopia, but all this and other crimes pale when it comes to the crime of the colonization of the minds of millions of Africans. The former passed, the latter crime still persists. Slave owners of America called it seasoning, the deculturization process that knew no end, leading to total subservience of the mind and the acceptance of the slave holder’s beliefs. The slave hated himself or herself, his culture, his blackness, his name his, kinky hair, lips and nose and in general his very being. This variety of “epistemic violence”, as some call it, afflicted many colonized Africans and Indians too. Structurally, British colonial control over India ended a longtime ago but the British left “persons, Indian in blood and color, but British in taste, in opinions, morals and in intellect”. Indian society worships the white skin, hates black and millions of the untouchables are, yes, quite black. In Kenya, a typical example was the Attorney General Charles Njonjo who assumed he was British and refused to shake hands with ordinary Kenyans thereby provoking the anger of Kenyan students who, when they demonstrated, often held placards calling on Njonjo to ” Go Home to England!”. And they were not joking at all.

Brainwashing is another word for it, massive brainwashing or what some have called “menticide”. Mental colonialism as the Iranian Jalal Al-e Almadi argued in his book Occidentosis. It has afflicted most colonized peoples. African Americans had to struggle against “seasoning” to decolonize their minds, to realize that black is also beautiful. It took a long time and is still not victorious. Even James Baldwin, as Eldridge Cleaver put it in his “Soul on Ice”, could himself qualify as a “reluctant black”, Malcolm X and others had to spend hours “conking” their hairs. The struggle for national liberation in Africa was not accompanied by a cultural struggle that was just as fierce. The African leaders and ruling elite left in power by colonialism were black in colour but white at heart and in desire. The Western companies that make skin lightening creams and lotions profit millions in Africa and India as their products spread skin diseases and reinforce the feeling of self loathing. Having a pale or white skin has become a must. Many colonized people bleach their skins, want to identify themselves with the colonial entity, are ashamed of their origin and punish their hairs. The French refer to light skinned blacks as the “saved colors” (couleur sauv) meaning saved by a miracle from the disaster that would have been “being black”. Even in Ethiopia, where colonialism never took place, we talk of color of various hues, differentiating Ethiopians as black, red and brown–ignorance being bliss and you can imagine what color is frowned upon. Wearing wigs over kinky hairs has earned millions for wig makers (Comedian Chris Rock has made an interesting film on the hair issue amidst African Americans). And the African male is accused of going wild for blondes fulfilling the white stereotype of ages–the black man yearning and lusting for blue eyed blondes. We are the eternal King Kongs, no? This is the most serious colonial crime committed on Africa–the colonization of our minds, now continued by the West under new forms. The African yearns to be a caricature of the white, to ape the white man’s culture, to have little or no self respect. We do not even consider ourselves able to express our woes and look up to self appointed stars and foreign self declared do-gooders to voice our plight and find us some solutions. The African was colonized and now he himself, devoid of an independent mind, continues with his own colonization, perpetuates negritude.

I am, however, of the opinion that Afro centrist positions often reflect, albeit in reverse and at times unwittingly, the base inferiority complex that characterizes the colonized mind. We do not have to insist that everything under the sun originated with the black person or in Africa to be proud of our heritage. Mobutu launched the authenticit campaign and changed his name from Joseph Desiree Mobutu to Mobutu Sese Seko Wazabanga but that did little to change his colonized mind or state of servility to the West. Civilization, what is right, progress and what is or is not modern are all relative and not always white. The concept of the mind as an occupied territory, this same mind becoming the enemy within of the assimilated “natives”, filled with self contempt, who imbibe the education of the colonizer (language and all) and become carbon copies of the colonizer highlights the confusion and debilitating trauma and tension the colonized have to live under. Ngugi wa Thiongo, in his book “The Decolonization of the Mind”, raises the problem as it relates to language and the dominance of English. He argues that writers should write in their native languages as a means of decolonization of the mind. How far is the relevance and even importance of Western education? Should the African elite feel proud and gloat just because, as one Western African put it, he has “sat at the foot of the white man and drank from the fountain of knowledge” in some Western university and got a degree. And yet the resort to what is generally known as tradition is fraught with deadly mines. Automatic deliverance is not offered–actually this solution may be worse than the problem in many instances. Harmful traditions are many; the overall rejection of all that is labeled Western (what is really Western and not universal?) could also be disastrous. After all the Taliban mind is not decolonized, they and the likes of the Somali Al Shabab, who rile against music, sports and the rights of women and decapitate, stone or throw acid at the faces of young girls going to school, are not a better deal over the colonized mind. Choose your poison.

Hence, the black security guards and policemen who tend to believe that all blacks are first class suspects are not to be blamed–they need to be pitied. Next time you go to a supermarket or a department store, do open your bags voluntarily to give the black security guards articles and books on the need to decolonize our minds. It is tragic to stay a slave and not know it at all. Fifty years after mostly fake independence, the real liberation of Africa demands an end to servility and to the colonization of our minds.